Reining in social media and it’s abusers

Most would-be reformers of social media want to rewrite Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which largely exempts social media companies from legal liability for what users post on their sites. But attempts “to ‘fix’” Section 230 would massively backfire, forcing Twitter, Facebook, et al. to heavily censor all controversial posts on all their sites lest they be sued into oblivion.

We often forget, however, that Section 230 doesn’t forbid suing users of social media for libel or holding them accountable. The problem is anonymity.  The nastiest and most irresponsible posters hide behind fake names and handles. Forcing users to register with, say, a credit card or other ID and use their real names might cut the sites’ user bases in half, but “advertisers would rejoice”—and it would limit the need for “tens of thousands of content moderators.” If you post threats or libelous attacks on people, you will risk getting sued. “Post about buying zip ties and invading the Capitol, and the FBI knocks on your door.” Ending anonymity “would put an immediate damper on today’s worst offenders.”.   (Andy Kessler,The Wall Street Journal,  2/3/2021).

My comment:  There should be no “get out of jail” card for anonymous posters.  If you are so frightened of commenting in your own name – then why?   Have the courage of your own convictions, even if you risk conviction.  Cowardice seems to be a rapidly expanding disease, in parallel with covid 19, and we should have a treatment for it –  openness and ownership of views, however disagreeable.

And for the record: this blog expresses many opinions, day by day, that I happen to know are not shared by some readers.  But I have a right to express them, and am willing to defend them  if challenged, without thinking up some stupid bogus handle to hide my identity.

Road deaths

Since 2010 there has been a steady increase in people being killed by motorists in cars.  In that year 4,302 pedestrians were killed on American roads. Since then the total of deaths has steadily increased. In 2018 41% more pedestrians were killed than in 2008.  Drivers, on the other hand, have become safer, that is, unlikely to be hurt badly in a collision.  This fatality rate is mirrored in Europe. In fact, everywhere in the world it is more dangerous to be walking than driving.  Yes,  cars pollute, but they are also killers (actually, the fault lies with the driver, not the machine)

My comment:  Cars are  increasingly made like tanks, and drivers drive far too fast, often speeding through red lights and apparently imagining themselves in some video game.  I know because I walk a lot around the city and have to be vigilant about the traffic.

The fact is that governments everywhere cater to motorists and spurn pedestrians.  I can’t remember how often I have been crossing on a (striped) pedestrian crossing and have had to stop mid-street to let a car pass a foot or so away. Some drivers don’t seem to know what a pedestrian crossings is; drive over a crossing in England when a pedestrian is walking across it and you are banned driving. Period.  My personal view is that 16 is too young to be allowed to drive solo; but then that  “infringes upon individual liberty”, a phrase convenient to all who do whatever they want to do.

Are we taking the threat of China and its chief megalomaniac seriously enough?

Up to 200 academics from more than a dozen UK universities are being investigated on suspicion of unintentionally helping the Chinese government build weapons of mass destruction.

  • China overtakes Russia as world’s biggest state hacker.
  • Russia warns US against including China at nuclear disarmament talks.
  • China uses microwave weapons to blast Indian troops in disputed border area.

The scholars are “suspected of transferring world-leading research in advanced military technology such as aircraft, missile designs and cyberweapons”, The Times reports.

In doing so, they would have violated “strict export laws intended to prevent intellectual property in highly sensitive subjects being handed to hostile states”, the paper continues. Many of the academics are thought to have “unwittingly” breached the laws by striking commercial deals with Chinese companies.

If found guilty, they could each face a maximum of ten years in prison. A source told The Times that “we could be seeing dozens of academics in courts before long”.

“If even 10% lead to successful prosecutions, we’d be looking at around 20 academics going to jail for helping the Chinese build super-weapons,” the source said.

News of the investigation comes just over a week after The Times reported that thousands of Chinese academics and researchers may be blocked from entering Britain amid concerns about the theft of intellectual property.

The Foreign Office is said to be introducing security vetting for academics and researchers working on national security issues, in response to fears that Chinese spies may acquire technology and data that could benefit Beijing.

The Telegraph revealed last week that three Chinese spies posing as journalists have been expelled from Britain in the past year. The trio, who arrived in the country on journalism visas, were “understood to be intelligence officers for Beijing’s Ministry of State Security”, according to the paper.

My comment:  there is enough blame to go round for the rapidly advancing Chinese hegemony.  You can blame 19th century colonialism and the British and Japanese interference in China, the short- sighted idea that by moving massive amounts of manufacturing to China you are benefitting the American consumer ( yes, for a short time) and so on.  Suffice to say that we in the West have helped to create the current threat from China and President Xi, and the unquenchable and ruthless thirst he has for power.  If you offer a tiger your hand in friendship check the integrity of your arm carefully after the event!

I know someone in the UK who opened a Chinese factory near one making similar products for hi-tech end products.  Every idea he had  was stolen, raw materials disappeared and the neighbor discovered that  the neighbor was siphoning off even the electricity via hidden cables.  And still we trust these people!

Restoring voter rights

H.R.1, the For The People Act, is a vital step in finally achieving voter and election equality. It would strengthen our democracy by making voting easier for folks in states that employ rampant voter suppression tactics, like unnecessary scrutiny of voters, strict voter ID laws, limited polling sites, language discrimination, and so much more.

H.R. 1 would eliminate gerrymandering, mend the corrupt campaign/election finance system, and ultimately make voting equal across the board, as it always should have been. The bill would also tackle the $14 billion of “dark money” or money used to influence the 2020 elections by forcing financial disclosures, putting a stranglehold on government and corporate corruption. Basically, this bill is essential if we care about the survival of our democracy. (Jack Holmes, The Patriotic Millionaires  28 Jan 2021).

My comment:  Why are some people so hostile to making one-person-one-vote universal?  It is ironic that many truly believe that the last election was rigged, when for years it has been their own  party policy to suppress the vote themselves, gerrymandering election boundaries, limiting voting sites, excluding citizens whose English is not good, scrutinizing the bona fides of voters, removing African Americans from voter rolls and trying to stop or reduce mail- in voting.  Elections have indeed been “stolen” over years, and the politicians must be prevented from doing these things in the future.  Guess what?  Excluding citizens from voting because of their race or presumed political leanings is the antithesis of democracy, a word thrown around with abandon, but the reality  is becoming daily more fragile.

By the way I like, even if I am unable to join, Patriotic Millionaires.  They support democracy when, for all I know , the electoral outcomes can be inimitable to their personal interests for financial and other reasons.  That is a patriotic stance!

Light relief

“This England” magazine carries the following pieces of intellectual information:

The second person to receive a Corona vaccination in England was ….. William Shakespeare from Warwickshire (this is absolutely true!). This spawned the following newspaper headlines:

  “The Taming of the Flu” and of course,

  “The Two Gentlemen of Corona”

  Also, there was this possible conversation between Will Shakespeare and the nurse administering the jab :

  Nurse: Which arm?

  WS    : As You Like It.

  Nurse: Was that painful?

  WS:     Much Ado About Nothing.

  Nurse: What do you think of the Government’s handling of Covid?

  WS    :Comedy of Errors.

The poor Scots!

The Scotch whisky industry is worth more than £5.5bn to the UK economy. The sector employs 11,000 people in Scotland, while the related supply chain supports a total of 40,000 jobs across the UK. 

Exports of Scotch whisky to the US have dropped by more than a third since the Donald Trump administration imposed tariffs just over a year ago in an unrelated trade war, newly published figures show.   The 25% tariff was introduced in October 2019 “in retaliation for EU state support given to Airbus”, but has cost whisky exporters a total of £500m.  The Scotch Whisky Association says that distillers are “continuing to pay the price for an aerospace dispute that has nothing to do” with them.

The cost of lost exports is “being borne by large and small producers alike, who are losing sales and market share in what has been for decades the industry’s largest and most valuable market, which they may never now recover”.   

Despite those high stakes, the UK government last month failed to conclude a “mini-deal” with the US that would have removed tariffs on Scotch whisky and other products caught up in the dispute.

Industry representatives are asking the UK government to act urgently and call for the immediate suspension of all tariffs on unrelated sectors and, at the same time, redouble efforts with the new US administration to resolve the aerospace dispute and lift tariffs permanently.

“The government must also offer some support to distillers, who are shouldering tariff losses alongside dealing with unprecedented difficult trading conditions as a result of Brexit and global restrictions to curb Covid-19 transmission.  (The Guardian)

My comment:  This illustrates how petty tit-for-tat dealings between countries does no one any good.

Deporting little children!

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported at least 72 people to Haiti on Monday, including a two-month-old baby and 21 other children, in an apparent flagrant breach of the Biden administration’s orders only to remove suspected terrorists and potentially dangerous convicted felons. The children were deported to Haiti on Monday on two flights chartered by ICE from Laredo, Texas to the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. The removals sent vulnerable infants back to Haiti as it is being roiled by major political unrest.

Last Friday, the administration appeared to gain the upper hand in its attempt to rein in ICE when deportation flights to Haiti were suspended.  But on Monday the immigration agency reasserted itself again with the renewed flights to Port-au-Prince, children and infants on board.

Human rights activists are dismayed by the deportations, which bear a close resemblance to the hardline course set by Donald Trump. “It is unconscionable for us as a country to continue with the same draconian, cruel policies that were pursued by the Trump administration,” said Guerline Jozef, executive director of the immigration support group the Haitian Bridge Alliance.

Immigration advisers are especially concerned about the safety of the Haitian children deported on Monday, given that they are being returned to a country that is embroiled in rapidly mounting political turmoil. The Haitian president, Jovenel Moïse, is refusing to heed opposition calls for him to step down in a dispute over the end of his term – his detractors say he should have left office on 7 February.

Moïse has been ruling by decree for more than a year and has recently cracked down on public protests. On Sunday, the day that opponents urged him to stand down, he announced the arrests of 23 people including a supreme court justice and a senior police inspector whom he claimed were plotting a coup against him.   Two Haitian journalists were reportedly shot with live ammunition fired by the armed forces on Monday in volatile scenes in the Champ de Mars in downtown Port-au-Prince.

The Biden administration has stoked further controversy by backing Moïse in the dispute. The US government has announced it takes the view that the Haitian president has another year to run before he must leave office.

Jozef said it was not safe to return children to this environment. “I fear for the kids being sent into the middle of this uprising. It’s as if there is a house burning, and instead of taking people out for their own safety the United States is sending defenseless babies into the burning house.”

ICE is continuing the deportations under the controversial use of Title 42, a health statute introduced in 1944 that was rarely used until recently. The Trump administration supercharged its application under the guise that it was necessary as a health protection against the coronavirus pandemic. (Washington Post  2/9/21)

My comment:   I would summarily fire the head of ICE for ignoring a Presidential order, but, more important, for submitting little children to the trauma of being expelled and dumped in (dangerous) Haiti. What is wrong with these people?  Have they absolutely no morals or human compassion?  We no longer want or need a heartless bunch of “uncivil” servants.  The peace of mind of children and migrants is as important to them as is peace of mind of the followers of Epicurus.

White supremacy

“The past conduct of the suspected white supremacists so alarmed investigators that their names had been previously entered into the national Terrorist Screening Database, a massive collection of individuals flagged as potential security risks, according to people familiar with evidence gathered in the FBI’s investigation.

The presence of so many watchlisted individuals in one place ( the Capitol) — without more robust security measures to protect the public — is another example of the intelligence failures preceding last week’s deadly assault, some current and former law enforcement officials argued”. ( Post  1/14/2021)

My comment: Peace of mind is hard to sustain when you understand how pervasive the hatred and resentment is in the country.  The parallels with the revolutions of the 20s and 30s are inescapable .I never thought this could ever happen in the United States.

Thought for the day

“I love an empty calendar. It is so peaceful!” — Cassandra Tucker, 69, Mt. Pleasant, Mich.

My comment:  The lady is not alone.  There are those who crave human company and crater when they don’t get it.  For those of us who are more introverted, covid and lock-down are disruptive, but there are rather pleasant aspects to it (if you worry about, but don’t dwell on, the mayhem and dreadful hardship in the outside world).  My wife has been practicing her piano and I have been drawing and painting, getting plenty of exercise, eating well, and talking to friends and family on Zoom, but hardly every day.  Time has flown.  Yes, it is so peaceful!

The quotes of Steven Wright

I have no idea who Steven Wight is, but the following imponderable questions are attributed to him.  They are a bit cynical.  He must be British:

1 – I’d kill for a Nobel Peace Prize.

2 – Borrow money from pessimists — they don’t expect it back.

3 – Half the people you know are below average.

4 – 99% of lawyers give the rest a bad name.

5 – 82.7% of all statistics are made up on the spot.

6 – A conscience is what hurts when all your other parts feel so good.

7 – A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

8 – If you want the rainbow, you got to put up with the rain.

9 – All those who believe in psycho kinesis, raise my hand.

10 – The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

11 – I almost had a psychic girlfriend, ….. But she left me before we met.

12 – OK, so what’s the speed of dark?

13 – How do you tell when you’re out of invisible ink?

14 – If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.

15 – Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm.

16 – When everything is coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane.

17 – Ambition is a poor excuse for not having enough sense to be lazy.

18 – Hard work pays off in the future; laziness pays off now.

19 – I intend to live forever … So far, so good.

20 – If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends?

21 – Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.

22 – What happens if you get scared half to death twice?

23 – My mechanic told me, “I couldn’t repair your brakes, so I made your horn louder.”

24 – Why do psychics have to ask you for your name?

25 – If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried.

26 – A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking.

27 – Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it.

28 – The hardness of the butter is proportional to the softness of the bread.

29 – To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.

30 – The problem with the gene pool is that there is no lifeguard.

31 – The sooner you fall behind, the more time you’ll have to catch up.

32 – The colder the x-ray table, the more of your body is required to be on it.

33 – Everyone has a photographic memory; some just don’t have film.

34 – If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.

35 – If your car could travel at the speed of light, would your headlights work?

( A big thank you to Joan Nelson for sending the above, knowing that I , for one, need a laugh)

A $15.00 minimum wage

President Biden’s proposed $15 minimum wage is a key part of setting the economy right. Predictably, however, critics pounced on it as soon as it was announced, making the usual arguments against paying folks decently. This time, however, because we’re  in the middle of a pandemic, these critics are also trying to argue that providing a liveable wage just isn’t possible during the COVID crisis and accompanying recession.

The reasons why they are wrong are as follows: 

The federal minimum wage, $7.25 per hour, hasn’t been raised since 2009, since when  the cost of living has risen all over the US.  Millions  of people couldn’t pay their bills even before COVID struck, and inflation has made what was already nowhere near enough in 2009 downright laughable in our modern economy. Nobody should be working full-time and living in poverty.

A $15 minimum wage is targeted COVID relief. An estimated 40 million workers would get a raise if the measure is passed. That’s a whopping 26.6 percent of the workforce and a full two-thirds of the working poor. With little to no savings and a labor market that has disproportionately cut low-wage jobs, this group has suffered the most during the pandemic and stands to benefit most  from the change. 

Consumer spending drives about 70% of the economy and creates the lion’s share of our growth every year.   If almost half of the population is earning less than $15 an hour, they frankly don’t have any extra money in their pockets to spend on anything but necessities like food, rent, and bills. If we make sure millions of people have just a little bit more cash, then they’ve got a lot more to spend in their local economies, helping American businesses thrive and jumpstarting the entire economy. 

We’ve actually already seen the benefits of a $15 minimum wage play out. When Congress gave out $1200 stimulus checks and approved a $600/week unemployment assistance boost last year, they ensured that millions of those low-wage workers who lost their jobs were making the equivalent of $15 an hour. The result? Poverty was a full 2 points lower in April and May 2020 than it was at the beginning of that year, and consumer spending grew for the first time during the pandemic. 

Despite what the critics might say, raising the wage won’t force tons of businesses to close. There is plenty of research that debunks this oft-cited myth, including an official scoring from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that stated raising the wage to $15 would have little or no impact on employment

A federal minimum wage is the floor – not the ceiling – for what states and localities should do with their wages. Many folks on the left wing rightly point out that for many places in America, $15 an hour is simply too low. The thing is, the federal minimum wage was always intended to be the bare minimum that an employer could pay a worker anywhere in the US, so states and localities can and MUST raise their minimum wages to accommodate for regional differences. Biden’s proposal helpfully makes this a bit easier by indexing the minimum wage to inflation, so that the federal minimum never stays so woefully behind the times as it is now.

Biden’s proposal eliminates the tipped minimum wage, a vestige of slavery that we should all be glad to get rid of. The tipped minimum wage began as a way to justify under-paying Black former slaves  in the post-Civil War economy, and it’s left millions of workers vulnerable to abuse, sexual harassment, and financial precariousness ever since. The tipped minimum wage has been stuck at a shocking $2.13 an hour for nearly 30 years, and it’s encouraging to see the Biden administration commit to phasing out this horrible practice. 

Simply put, raising the wage to $15 is good for workers, good for the economy, and good for our society. We think it’s a no-brainer for the new administration, and we’re delighted beyond measure that they seem to agree. Of course, the proposal will have to make its way through Congress before the President-Elect gets to make good on his promise, but we remain hopeful and ready to make sure this bill gets passed as soon as possible – because we know that millions of our neighbors can’t wait.

(The Patriotic Millionaire, a lively organization comprising very rich people with a conscience, bless them!)

Epicureanism – the main beliefs

From time to time I post a short list of the main teachings of Epicurus

1. Overall End or “Summum Bonum” or “Reason for Living”: Happiness or Pleasure. Happiness is peace of mind and body. It is tranquillity or undisturbedness (ataraxia), the quiet of a mind free from fear (or anxiety) and a body content with natural satisfactions.

2. Mental pleasure is better than bodily pleasure.

3. Mental pain (anxiety) is worse than bodily pain.

4. Quality of pleasure is more important than quantity of pleasure.

5. Fear causes mental disturbance.

6. Do not fear the gods: They do not concern themselves with human problems; nor do they reward or punish.

7. Do not fear death: Life is feeling or sensation; when life ends, there is no feeling (no pain); death does not hurt.

8. Do not fear physical nature: Nature is indifferent; the universe is but the motion and the mingling of atoms.

9. Exercise prudence: Although every pleasure in itself is good and every pain is evil, some pains should be endured for the sake of future pleasure and some pleasures should be forgone since they may lead to future pain.

10. Live simply and prudently (with self-control and moderation). Seek simple pleasures, those that satisfy natural and necessary desires. By nature we need food, drink, clothing, shelter, prudence (reason), and friendship.

11. Seeking luxuries (extravagant food, excessive drink, sexual love, and the like) creates anxiety in our minds and disturbance in our bodies.

12. Avoid excess of all kinds; simple pleasures (with a gentle motion of atoms) are preferable to painful excesses (with a violent motion of atoms).

13. Make friends: They provide security and pleasant conversation.

14. Avoid disturbing people. Stay in the Garden with your friends.

15. Make agreements with others (laws), so that you will not disturb one another.

16. There is no right or wrong (justice or injustice) outside of these agreements. Agreements (and justice therefore) differ from community to community. [cultural relativism]

17. Live justly (obey the laws), so that you will not have the anxiety of wondering if you will be caught and punished.

18. When you are old, think about the good times you have had. That will make up for bodily pain.

19. When you are young, think about the good that lies ahead. Do not fear the future. We can control some things, but we cannot control everything.

20. Dread (anxiety or fear) is worse than present bodily suffering. Present suffering soon passes; anxiety lasts a long time.

21. When enough security against other people is achieved, if one has enough power and material wealth as a base, then one can have the safety of a quiet life in solitude apart from the crowd.

(Compiled by Gordon L. Ziniewicz from  Principal Doctrines, XIV)

Be careful who you believe!

Oklahoma is trying to return its $2 million purchase of hydroxychloroquine and get a refund from the manufacturer. Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt ordered the purchase of the malaria drug in April, when President Trump was promoting it as a “miracle” treatment for Covid-19. Studies, however, have found the drug inappropriate (actually useless, to be honest, except for treatment of malaria, as advertised).  Stitt’s spokeswoman said he made the purchase “with the health and lives of Oklahomans in mind.”  (The Week USA)

My comment:  one should be able to believe a US President when he recommends a health product.   After all, he has, at the snap of his fingers, a huge phalanx of medical experts to advise him.  I feel sorry for Gov. Stitt.  Some people in the United States ignore or disdain both science and the experts and broadcast the first thing that comes into their heads.  Which is a shame.  Never mind – it just means fewer funds for schools, law and order ……  and so on.  Big Money will still fork out hugely for Gov. Stitt’s next election.  So that’s o.k.

With apologies for the intended irony.

Grandfather of the Year

A woman in a supermarket is following a grandfather and his badly-behaved grandson. He has his hands full with the child screaming for candy, cookies, all sorts of things.

The grandpa is saying in a controlled voice: “Easy, William, we won’t be long—easy, boy.” The boy has another outburst and she hears the grandpa calmly say : “It’s okay, William. Just a couple more minutes and we’ll be out of here. Hang in there, son.”

At the checkout the little horror is throwing items out of the shopping cart. Grandpa says again in a controlled voice, “William, William, relax buddy, don’t get upset. We’ll be home in five minutes, stay cool, William.”

Very impressed, she goes outside to where the grandfather is loading his groceries and the boy into the car. She says: “It’s none of my business, but you were amazing in there. I don’t know how you did it. That whole time you kept your composure, and no matter how loud and disruptive he got, you just calmly kept saying things would be okay. William is very lucky to have you as his grandpa.”]

“Thanks,” says the grandpa, “but I am William. This little bastard’s name is Kevin.

 

Now some important philosophical questions on life…….

Why do supermarkets make the sick walk all the way to the back of the store to get their prescriptions while healthy people can buy cigarettes at the front?

 
Why do people order double cheeseburgers, large fries, and a diet coke?

 
Why do banks leave vault doors open and then chain the pens to the counters?

 
Why do we leave cars worth thousands of dollars in our driveways and put our useless junk in the garage?

 
Ever wonder……. Why the sun lightens our hair, but darkens our skin?

 
Why can’t women put on mascara with their mouth closed?

 
Why don’t you ever see the headline ‘Psychic Wins Lottery’?

 
Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavoring, and dish washing liquid made with real lemons?

 
Why is the man who invests all your money called a broker?

 
Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?

 
Why isn’t there mouse-flavoured cat food?
 
Why do they sterilize the needle for lethal injections?

 
You know that indestructible black box that is used on airplanes? Why don’t they make the whole plane out of that stuff?

 
Why don’t sheep shrink when it rains?

 
Why are they called apartments when they are all stuck together?

 
If flying is so safe, why do they call the airport the terminal?